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Even this crazily thrown stone can be pulled back. That's not baseless optimism, nor an understatement of the intensity of the pain, anger, threats or the terrible deterioration in the situation that was caused by the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

There is recognition that the two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, have for a long time been paying a very high price because of this crazy war, and that they both deserve to live without the violence and its ramifications in all aspects of life. Each side has children who aspire to a different future. Love of life. Mothers who want to hug living children, not corpses.

Both nations have humane plans for the future, for coming generations, developing economies, tourism, and education. And their leaders cannot go on in a way that distances the people even further from peace and reconciliation.

The key to the drastic change needed by both peoples is in the hands of one person, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. He, and only he, can take action to calm the Palestinian side, if he is allowed freedom of action and the proper stature. This proposal will surely be perceived in Israel as strange. Most Israelis hate Arafat.

They doubt his credibility, and even though he was elected in free elections monitored by Israel and international agencies, Israel delegitimized his leadership. Many Israeli politicians speak of killing him, and all that prevents it are considerations that take into account the international objections and domestic considerations about the ramifications on the ground. He is accused of responsibility for most of the attacks, even those conducted as an attempt to provoke or challenge him and his rule.

But it should be remembered that Arafat's image in Israeli eyes is the same as Ariel Sharon's image in the eyes of the Palestinians. Sharon is hated by millions of Palestinians and hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims.

Many would like to kill him. They do not trust him. They think all his plans for unilateral withdrawal, his talk of an independent Palestinian state, his declarations about evacuating settlements - is all baseless. They believe that his only plan has not changed since the operation he commanded in the Palestinian village of Qibiyeh in 1953.

Nonetheless, the Palestinians do not challenge Sharon's status as the elected prime minister of Israel. They do not intervene in the considerations of the Israeli electorate, and even believe that only he can bring peace, precisely because of his past, soaked in the blood of Palestinians and Arabs.

If we continue to behave according to the gut feelings of the two nations, we will continue fighting for years, with all that means. Without Arafat (and Sharon) it is impossible to do anything. Arafat is the uncontestable leader of the Palestinian people and he is so, by the way, because of Sharon's policies.

If he were freed unconditionally from his siege, and asked to become a partner even to the disengagement plan on the way to the implementation of the road map, he would agree to impose order and create a drastic change in his relations with Israel, including Sharon.

He has not done so until now because he did not want to be a subcontractor of Israel, repressing his people, and furthermore he had to do so while the shin Bet decided on what he should do and the army suffocates him with its siege. That siege is the root of the evil right now.

It angers Arafat, so he won't take action. But if there were an American appeal, and an Israeli agreement, they would not hesitate to change and make changes.

The writer is a Nazareth-based journalist